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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Never Gonna Give You Up": the perfect song for a worldwide day of pranks

Does it count as a rickroll if you’re told right away?

Alright, there’s no way I could pass up this one. (And that title question is a completely serious ask for me — does even seeing this song in some way, shape, or form, without hearing it still qualify? I personally don’t think so, but you all probably have your own definitions of the rickroll.)

It’s April Fools’ Day, and there’s no song which encapsulates the art of the prank more than Rick Astley’s 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” What’s remarkable is that, despite the song’s age and its international chart-topping success, it took over two decades for it to become any sort of meme. Once it did become one, though, it became nigh impossible to stop. From one bait-and-switch on 4chan in March 2007, the cesspool of the internet, rickrolling swept across the web, with April Fools' Day the next two years proving to be the ideal launchpad for its proliferation.

Fifteen years later, I’m marveled by the meme and the song’s staying power, to the point that “XcQ,” the ending to the official music video’s URL, is often picked out in an instant from a cornucopia of links. I know for myself that it’s saved me from the internal embarrassment of the rickroll hundreds of times, especially within the past few years. The thing is, sometimes I’m okay with hearing “Never Gonna Give You Up,” because it honestly isn’t a bad song, meme or not. It’s a well-executed and extremely danceable soul/pop number, with oh-so-80s string and brass synths and both lead and backing vocals that can get into anybody’s heads with ease.

Seriously, without it being a meme, it would probably (still?) be regarded as a pretty good track. The instrumental alone, while unmistakably 80s in its gated reverb drums and Yamaha DX7 synth (Polyphonic made an excellent video about how that synth defined the musical decade), is enough to get just about anyone at least nodding their head. Maybe that’s what makes rickrolling so infuriating: not only are you pranked in such a well-known fashion, but it’s an earworm because it’s just a straight-up good composition and production by the trio Stock Aitken Waterman. Their lyrics are nothing special, but in their regular language they become more embedded in our culture because they can so easily be thrown into natural conversation — a more subtle and even less expected form of the rickroll that I’ve been guilty of both giving and receiving.

So what made “Never Gonna Give You Up” as conducive to being a meme as any audio ever? Well, there’s certainly a musical side to it, between its natural catchiness and Astley’s crooned lyrics. However, I think the music video might have more to do with it being so viral than anything. The song may be most recognizable… well, as a song, but as a meme it’s best served in visual format, and Astley’s quasi-dancing combined with the acrobatic moves of the... bartender in the video scream “meme” to me more than any other feature. To me, the video made the audio a meme alongside it, to the point that the song, with or without the visual accompaniment, has become an even more prevalent meme.

I’ve never been super into April Fools' Day, but when I heard “Never Gonna Give You Up” recently I knew it was the perfect song for this spot on the calendar. Between it being just a fun song and one of the simplest yet most widely understood memes in existence, there’s so much cultural context and memory packed into every listen that the intrigue around it and its status only grows with every listen.


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